Google Fonts: Your Questions, Answered

DaveCrosslandDaveCrossland Posts: 198
edited November 2013 in Business
(If you don't know me: I've worked as a technology consultant for over a decade, and in recent years graduated from the MATD programme and then consulted for Google on www.google.com/fonts - specifically on their font commissioning and publication.)

I thought I'd mention here in a new thread that I am collecting questions to put to the Google Fonts team, that will be answered in an interview on a major type blog soon.

I'm collecting the questions in this pad:

http://sync.in/qZyoJF90dC
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Comments

  • My favorite question: "Why is Google soliciting questions, and for what purpose?"
  • If only there were some kind of online forums where the Google web fonts team could take questions directly from the public…
  • Dave, do you consult for Google or are you on the payroll?
  • Perhaps someone neutral should conduct the interview, otherwise some might view this as little more than an infomercial, rather than an article. I nominate Bruno Maag.
  • The major type blog isn't the Google fonts blog, and the interviewer will be neutral.
  • Jackson CavanaughJackson Cavanaugh Posts: 348
    edited November 2013
    Oh cool, another marketing opportunity disguised as open conversation from the font liberation zealots.
  • David BerlowDavid Berlow Posts: 380
    edited November 2013
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 265
    edited November 2013
    Do you really think GF needs marketing?
    The stats just reached 1 trillion https://www.google.com/fonts/#Analytics:total
  • Jackson CavanaughJackson Cavanaugh Posts: 348
    edited November 2013
    Given that Google Fonts and everyone associated with it has a turd for a reputation in the type industry, yes.
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 265
    edited November 2013
    I can understand your sentiment, but of course I don't agree with it.
    Not everything there is the work of amateurs like me. There are many Google Fonts published that where made by experienced and reputable type designers like Steve Matteson, José Scaglione (current ATypI presindent) and Veronika Burian, Ale Paul, Carrois, Font Dinner, Ale LoCelso, Dario Muhafara and Eduardo Tunni, Pablo Cosgaya, Latinotype, Typesences, many Reading graduates and CDT-UBA graduates. There are also fonts by Adobe's Paul Hunt and Monotype's Dan Rathigan and Toshi Omagari. The Rosario font was hand hinted by Tim Ahrens via TypeKit. And Alegreya was a Letter2 winner (Peter Biľak, John Hudson, Akira Kobayashi, Gerry Leonidas and Fiona Ross where in the Jury, among others).
  • Pablo, it seems disingenuous and certainly inaccurate to describe Google Fonts as having 'published' all those fonts to which you refer. These are fonts published under open source licenses by various foundries, not by Google Fonts. The Google Fonts collection includes open source fonts from a variety of sources, and of variable quality. How many of the fonts 'made by experienced and reputable type designers' were funded by Google Fonts? [And fonts like Noto and Droid should not be counted, since they were funded by different groups at Google.]

    I've been pretty clear, I think, that I cut Google Fonts more slack than some of my colleagues, because I've got a pretty good idea of the circumstances under which the initiative started and the targets that encouraged them to favour quantity over quality. I think Google Fonts could be a good thing in the long term, but only if it can be built into something more than it is now in terms of a proper level of investment in professional font development. That, in turn, means demonstrating value in such an investment, so for more reasons than just reputation, Google Fonts needs to change its approach to building the collection.
  • This “experienced and reputable” designer has made his submission to Google Fonts.
    An original design just for them.
    Let’s see if it makes the cut in the January budget!
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 265
    edited December 2013
    John, Thanks for the correction, and please forgive me as English is not my native language and I use Google Translate all the time for writing. I must have used "There are many fonts included at Google Fonts that where made by experienced and reputable type designers like..."
    How many of the fonts 'made by experienced and reputable type designers' were funded by Google Fonts?
    AFAIK, pretty much all of them (With a few exceptions, like Mak Simonson's Anonymous Pro that was released as OFL before GF existed). Some where funded since their very first development stages, while others where funded for re-releasing and changing the license from Commercial to OFL. And of course the designers and foundries also retained all the right on the fonts, enabling them to create Pro or Extended Families version to the same fonts, to be released also under commercial licenses. There are many examples of those cases.
    means demonstrating value in such an investment
    That will be easy to do, since there are Analytic available and ROI can be calculated as U$S invested in each font / views generated by each font. But stats are always surprising, and while many of the Pro fonts are doing well on the ranking, other Pro fonts (that where among the most expensive ones, and on which there was much expectation) are disappointingly low. And the same goes for the amateurs fonts, while some are low on the ranking as expected, other are surprisingly very high. From a economic point of view, I think it's best split the risk, and to keep investing in both at the same time, as they are doing, in order to maximize the ROI, as professional fonts are not guaranteed to be successful in terms of the amount of views generated, and to resonate into all the audiences, as demonstrated by the rankings.

    John and Nick, I will be very happy to see your fonts published "included" at Google Fonts. And I really hope you and many more experienced and reputable designers are able to negotiate a good deal and release their fonts under a Libre license.

  • > from Commercial to OFL

    from proprietary to OFL; most OFL fonts have been made commercially.

    For anyone interested in being paid to allow their fonts to be included in Google Fonts, please email me - dcrossland@google.com
  • From a economic point of view, I think it's best split the risk, and to keep investing in both at the same time, as they are doing, in order to maximize the ROI, […] and to resonate into all the audiences, as demonstrated by the rankings.
    Can't argue with that, from an economic point of view. Everyone in the type business has to think about ROI and usage stats. But as long as Google seems to think ROI and font views is the chief thing (if not the only thing), its reputation in the type world will not change.
  • John:
    inaccurate to describe Google Fonts as having 'published' all those fonts to which you refer
    Disingenuous word writhing deflecting from the main point of Pablo's argument. Publishing fonts is exactly what Google does and originality is irrelevant compared to the who he speaks of.

    Pablo:
    [demonstrating value in such an investment]
    That will be easy to do, since there are Analytic available and ROI can be calculated as U$S invested in each font / views generated by each font.
    I challenge that this is "easy to do" or even possible. Tell the formula.

    Dave:
    anyone interested in being paid to allow their fonts to be included in Google Fonts,
    I might pay to have "Advent Pro", bold in particular, Greek if possible, either fixed or removed before it destroys New Jersey.
  • David, the formula is included in the very same quoted sentence
    ROI for each font = $ invested / views generated
  • David, Pablo's main argument seemed to be that the Google Fonts collection includes some good fonts by experienced type designers. But since the GF collection can, and mostly does, include any open source font, the inclusion of those doesn't necessarily indicate any association between Google Fonts and the makers of those fonts. And association with GF is what Jackson suggested involved turd-like reputation. Note, by the way, that I'm not agreeing with Jackson, only suggesting that 'association' with GF involves something other than simply having one's open source fonts included in their collection. Heck, I could make all the same open source fonts available from the Tiro website, and it wouldn't imply any kind of association between me and the people who made them.
  • Si's last post (suggesting Bruno Maag do the interview) made me look for the "LOL" button for post feedback.

    John, what defines "associating" with Google Fonts? Would specifically making something they commissioned count?
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 265
    edited December 2013
    the inclusion of those doesn't necessarily indicate any association between Google Fonts and the makers ... 'association' with GF involves something other than simply having one's open source fonts included in their collection. Heck, I could make all the same open source fonts available from the Tiro website, and it wouldn't imply any kind of association between me and the people who made them.
    Yes it does, if they were funded by Google Fonts. And with the exceptions of Source Sans (funded by Adobe), and Rosario's hinting (funded by Typekit), pretty much all others were commissioned or funded by Google Fonts to be released as OFL, like for example Bree Serif Regular (http://www.type-together.com/index.php?action=portal/viewContent&cntId_content=3141&id_section=166) or Bubblegum Sans, etc..

    If they fund you to develop a font for them, in more or less degree you become associated, if only for that particular project. And many of the big-boys and medium-size players of the type industry have made those deals to receive funding to release some of their fonts under OFL to be included on GF, disregarding Jackson's sentiment. And I'm very happy for that, and hopping that more and more of those deals continue to happen in the future, and more and more pro fonts gets released as OFL, and designers of those get properly compensated.

    Also, Monotype and Adobe are associated too, by sharing tech developments and other resources... and those are the biggest ones on the industry...
  • Pablo, a formula beginning and ending in page views per $ would be useful, if the views were in any way related to the fonts, but they are not. When you next explain "stats are surprising" you could also say that particular stat is meaningless.
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 265
    edited December 2013
    You can also calculate:
    ROI = $ invested / number of websites requesting the font.
    Leaving the traffic generated by each website out of the equation.

    But my "guess" is that they are more interested in total number of views per font, independently of the traffic source. Or my guess can be wrong... I don't know. You may have to ask Dave about it.
  • Some weeks ago I posted something to the discussion about early instances of typefounders paying royalties. I mentioned that, a hundred years ago, there were over 600 piano manufacturers in the U.S. and 1800 automobile manufacturers. The geniuses who argued about whether there were one (as I stated) or one-and-a-half remaining piano makers today chose to miss my obvious, though unstated, point: the current number of people attempting to make fonts for a living is as unsustainable as 600 piano manufacturers became after the advent of radio.

    I mention this here because it's impossible for me to see how adding to the number of open source fonts will help the situation, or how anyone could expect to derive valuable "exposure" by offering fonts through Google Fonts, an largely uncurated collection of stuff. Anything placed there is inevitably degraded by association with a mass of unwashed and poorly fed work. I'm not even sure Google Fonts qualifies as "open source" by any reasonable definition, but may be just another file sharing site for fonts.

    I don't suspect that Google Fonts is a case of malice aforethought, but the model does real harm nonetheless. (It wouldn't surprise me if, at some moment, someone in an official capacity at Google said, "Fonts? Why would anyone pay for fonts?") I can't quantify the damage--I don't think anyone can--but neither do I think anyone could argue that it does no harm to those who try to make a living selling the fruits of their labor.

    And to young people: Hoping for "exposure" is the second-oldest self-deception on the planet. They ought to run public-service ads about "exposure." Like for condoms. That's it! Have an uncontrollable urge to trade your font for exposure? Cool down, Spartacus--use a condom.
  • Yes, Thomas and Pablo, I would consider association to stem from a financial relationship, not from mere inclusion in the collection. With regard to Pablo's list, I saw names in there that I understood to have made open source fonts commissioned by other groups at Google, which is why I queried their association with Google Fonts per se. If they also made fonts funded by GF, I'm happy to stand corrected. As I said, I don't agree with Jackson's assessment, just didn't think Pablo's response addressed it.
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 265
    edited December 2013
    I can't quantify the damage--I don't think anyone can--but neither do I think anyone could argue that it does no harm to those who try to make a living selling the fruits of their labor.
    I think it has actually helped to popularize the webfont technology adoption at large scale, thus generating more sales for other webfonts vendors. And.. we are also doing OFL fonts to make a living selling the fruits of our labor. That's a common misunderstanding: We don't work for free. We are paid to create the fonts (or to switch them to the OFL license)... we charge money. I don't really care about exposure at all... but certainly, having good stats has helped me to negotiate betters deals and increase the amount of money I get paid in each new commission.

    Basically, these are 2 different business models:
    1) You develop a font on your own (for free) and when you finish it you put it up for sale under a commercial license: If you are lucky you get many sales and you make money after a while.
    2) You are paid upfront to develop a font. You have already made money, and then you release it under a Libre license, for free to the general public, since it was already paid to you.
  • DaveCrosslandDaveCrossland Posts: 198
    edited December 2013
    Paul Hunt and Steve Matteson are the only ones in Pablo's list not commissioned by David Kuettel and Raph Levien, with my consultation.

    Paul is a staff designer at Adobe, so got his pay check, and no one at Google was involved until it was ready to release and Adobe approached that Google Fonts team to release it in the GF api on the same day.

    Steve is a staff designer at Monotype, so for his paycheck he made fonts commissioned by Google Internationalisation.
  • > I might pay to have "Advent Pro", bold in particular, Greek if possible, either fixed or removed before it destroys New Jersey.

    If you are serious, I will ask the folks working on it to email you their next update and you can give then some tips.
  • Basically, these are 2 different business models:
    1) You develop a font on your own (for free) and when you finish it you put it up for sale under a commercial license: If you are lucky you get many sales and you make money after a while.
    2) You are paid upfront to develop a font. You have already made money, and then you release it under a Libre license, for free to the general public, since it was already paid to you.
    Let’s suppose these are the only two relevant business models here. Let’s also suppose that both models produce fonts of a similar quality. What might happen, is this...

    The more “model 2” fonts are produced, and the more those fonts are being used, the harder it gets for those who produce “model 1” fonts to sell their fonts. The more the market gets glutted with “model 2” fonts, the less “model 1” fonts get sold. The free “model 2” fonts, will crowd out the non-free “model 1” fonts.

    If you produce “model 2” fonts, you might, perhaps, not care about those who produce “model 1” fonts. But for sure, those who produce “model 1” fonts will, in time, lose out, because they will sell less and less than what they would have sold in a world without “model 2” fonts. And perhaps, in time, when Google feels it has brought enough fonts to the market, they might stop supporting those who produce “model 2” fonts, or they might greatly reduce what they pay for those fonts.

    The best ending of this story might be, that we would all depend for our livelihood on the few Googles of this world. The worst ending might be, that we would all be like piano manufacturers.

    Of course, things might turn out differently — but this is a possible scenario.
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